Staff Opinion: Why commodified feminism isn’t real feminism

By Natalie Rubio-Licht | April 3, 2018 9:02am

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Natalie Rubio-Licht is a freshman reporter for The Beacon.
by Brennan Robinson / The Beacon

In honor of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, luxury fashion brand Dior released t-shirts with the slogan “We Should All Be Feminists” printed plainly across the front in the summer of 2017. However, the empowering tee came at a high price point and is currently selling for $710.  

Another example of  high-priced activism comes from New York-based company Lingua Franca, whose simply embroidered sweaters sporting slogans like “Resist” and “The Future is Female” cost around $380. (However, Lingua Franca’s methods are more humane than other luxury designers — making a commitment to “fair trade, ethical labor practices, and the highest environmental standards” and donating 100 dollars from each purchase to a charity of the buyer’s choice.) 

Even with ethical practices, the type of feminism luxury brands are supporting is still grossly exclusionary. By creating women-positive products with ridiculously high price points, companies reveal their hypocritical nature — making it exceedingly obvious that they only truly support a certain type of woman. This type of feminism is not intersectional, meaning it doesn’t support women of all socioeconomic standings, races, sexualities and gender identities. 

70 percent of the nation’s poor are women and children, according to Legal Momentum. According to the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the poverty threshold for an individual is a pretax income of $12,082 per year and fluctuates depending on the number of people within the household. This trend of increasingly impoverished women is called the feminization of poverty and is something the non-intersectional feminist movement fails to take into account. 

However, when companies manage to put low price tags on their feminist-centered items, such as Forever 21 and their $9 “GRL PWR” shirt or Macy’s $13 “Feminist” shirt, they often do so with the help of sweatshops, according to The Journal. 

The majority of sweatshop workers are women, consisting of 85 percent young women between the ages of 15 and 25 according to the Feminist Majority Foundation. 

It’s a tricky situation. Can feminism be connected with capitalism and still be intersectional? Is a product actually supporting feminism if it was made by a woman in a sweatshop? Is a company’s social justice truly social justice if it is inaccessible to so many, or is it just hopping on a trend and profiting off of activism? Can the complex and encompassing philosophy of feminism really be reduced to a slogan on a t-shirt?

It’s hard not to feed into the system of fast fashion and sweatshops. However, it’s not hard to at least be aware of it. One good website to check is Shop Ethical, which uncovers and rates how ethically sourced the products of different brands are. 

It’s understandable that we are all relatively broke college students, but when you can, try to know what you’re buying — and know if who you are buying from actually support what they’re selling on that “GRL PWR” t-shirt, rather than just profiting off of a movement. 

Natalie Rubio Licht is a freshman English and Communication Studies major. They can be reached at rubiolic21@up.edu. 

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